The genius who died at 26by AC Grayling / January 23, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
Frank Ramsey in 1921: Ramsey was friends with Keynes, supervised Wittgenstein’s PhD thesis and made breakthroughs in maths, economics and philosophy
Frank Ramsey: A Sister’s Memoir
by Margaret Paul (Smith-Gordon, £20)
Frank Ramsey was 26 years old when he died after an operation at Guy’s Hospital in January 1930. In his short life, he had made lasting contributions to mathematics, economics and philosophy, and to the thinking of a number of his contemporaries, including Ludwig Wittgenstein.
When I taught at St Anne’s, Oxford during the 1980s, I was introduced by my colleague Gabriele Taylor to Ramsey’s sister, Margaret Paul, by then retired from teaching economics at Lady Margaret Hall college. As with anyone with some knowledge of the fields of enquiry Ramsey influenced, I was immediately recruited into helping with her research into his life and thought, though in a minor capacity; she had a formidable array of other helpers besides, from eminent philosophers like Taylor and PF Strawson onwards.
Frank Ramsey was 18 when Margaret was born, so her own memories of him were those of a little girl. A large part of her motivation in writing about him was to get to know him. In this quest she was equally tireless and scrupulous. Most aspects of his work require advanced technical competence, but she was determined to understand them; an afternoon at her house talking about him could be as gruelling as it was educative.
Her memoir has now been published. It is a remarkable book, a window not just into a prodigious mind—Ramsey translated Wittgenstein’s Tractatus as a second year Trinity undergraduate, simultaneously publishing original work in probability theory and economic…